The craziness of the 2013 NFL season continued in Week 15, with five division leaders losing and more shuffling of the playoff picture. The standings have been shaken up, but sometimes the records don't indicate how well a team is playing. That's what power rankings are for, so here's a breakdown of every team heading into the penultimate week of the regular season.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
Russell Wilson was just drafted by the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Seahawks defense pitched a perfect game against the New York Giants. Seattle held the Giants scoreless, came away with five Eli Manning interceptions and kept New York below 200 yards of total offense.
Short of the Seahawks imploding, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Seattle. That’s a scary thought for every other NFC team.
2. Denver Broncos (11-3)
The Thursday night loss to the San Diego Chargers was humbling, as Philip Rivers and Co. dominated the Denver Broncos defense and held onto the ball for a shade under 39 minutes.
Peyton Manning had a subpar game, but this loss has very little to do with the offense. The defense couldn’t get off the field or stop the run. That’s a huge concern for a team thinking Super Bowl.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
Don’t look now, but the Kansas City Chiefs are right back in the conversation for the No. 1 seed, which would bump the Broncos to the first wild-card spot. Granted, that looks unlikely considering the fact that Denver would have to lose to the Houston Texans or the Oakland Raiders, but stranger things have happened.
More importantly for Kansas City, the offense is firing on all cylinders at the moment after hanging 56 points on Oakland (the Chiefs are averaging 42 points per game in their last four contests). The defense also appears to be rolling, as it has forced 11 turnovers in the last three games.
Furthermore, if we needed a reminder that Jamaal Charles is a bad, bad man, we got it in Week 15 against the Raiders when the running back scored five touchdowns.
4. San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
The San Francisco 49ers traveled across the country to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 10 a.m. on their West Coast body clocks a week after they beat their rivals in their biggest win of the season. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”
At least, it sure looked like a trap.
Instead, the Niners breezed through the contest and won by 19 points. The defense held the Bucs to under 200 yards of offense, and Colin Kaepernick looks way more comfortable with Michael Crabtree back in the mix.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s team is peaking at the right time.
5. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Beating the New York Jets at home was expected, and now all attention turns to next week’s tussle with the New Orleans Saints—the biggest game in Carolina since 2002.
After the Saints’ Week 15 loss, the Carolina Panthers can earn a first-round bye with a Week 16 win. The game will be much closer in Carolina, but can they pull off the win?
6. New England Patriots (10-4)
The New England Patriots couldn’t capitalize on Denver’s Thursday night loss, but they still played very well despite losing to the Miami Dolphins.
Tom Brady passed for 364 yards despite missing Rob Gronkowski, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, and New England still had the chance to leave South Beach with a last-second win.
You’d have to imagine that all the injuries take their toll eventually, but never doubt the duo of Brady and Bill Belichick.
7. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
The final score doesn’t show how thoroughly the New Orleans Saints were beaten by the St. Louis Rams. New Orleans needed 13 fourth-quarter points to bring the game within 11 points, and Drew Brees was off his game.
Brees was sacked four times and threw two interceptions, and now the Saints travel to Carolina for a very difficult game.
8. Arizona Cardinals (9-5)
The Arizona Cardinals blew a 17-point lead with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, but they managed to pull out the hard-fought win on the road against the Tennessee Titans.
Arizona’s offense has turned the corner, and Carson Palmer has looked much more dependable in recent weeks.
The Cardinals have won six of their last seven and still have a shot at the playoffs, but they’ll need to beat Seattle and San Francisco for that to happen.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)
The Cincinnati Bengals entered Heinz Field as the favorites against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh made the oddsmakers look silly for even contemplating such a line.
Cincinnati was completely dominated in every way, shape and form in this encounter. The Bengals couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity to momentarily grab a first-round bye, and the loss still gives the Baltimore Ravens a shot at the division crown.
10. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
Andrew Luck and his Indianapolis Colts dominated the Houston Texans 25-3, but what does that really mean in 2013? Not much.
The pass defense looked better, but the Colts are still having difficulties on offense without Reggie Wayne in the fold.
There was some good news, however, as Trent Richardson looked pretty good racking up 102 total yards and a score.
11. Miami Dolphins (8-6)
The Miami Dolphins have won three in a row (including wins over Pittsburgh and New England) and they currently occupy the second wild-card spot in the AFC.
Ryan Tannehill was superb against the Patriots in Week 15 and Miami has very winnable division games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets on the schedule to end the year. A postseason appearance looks likely for the Dolphins.
12. Chicago Bears (8-6)
Jay Cutler’s return didn’t start well as he threw two interceptions in the first half. He bounced back nicely, however, and threw three touchdowns to lead the Chicago Bears to a comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns.
The defense is still fairly horrendous, but the Bears offense is stocked full of playmakers and should be able to score on anybody.
13. Detroit Lions (7-6)
We’ll give the Detroit Lions a pass for Week 14’s loss considering the ridiculous weather and the fact that they are a team that lives and dies by the pass.
They have a tough game against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football that is a must-win matchup to stay in the driver’s seat in the NFC North.
14. Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
Matt Flynn led the Green Bay Packers on another huge comeback, and their Week 15 win was truly a game of two halves. Green Bay outscored the Dallas Cowboys 34-10 in the second half and took the lead for good after an Eddie Lacy touchdown run.
Be prepared for next week to overflow with questions regarding the status of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are still in the hunt, and nobody wants to face Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t show up in Week 15. They gave up 48 points to the Minnesota Vikings, who were playing without Adrian Peterson.
The Eagles defense has been a concern all season, and this performance only added to the questions considering the fact that Matt Cassel and Matt Asiata combined to score six touchdowns in the game.
Philadelphia gave up 455 yards to the Petersonless Vikings, and star running back LeSean McCoy only received eight carries for some unthinkable reason.
Does anybody want to win the NFC East?
16. San Diego Chargers (7-7)
The San Diego Chargers completely outplayed the Denver Broncos, and that’s not something we’ve been able to say very frequently over the last couple of years.
San Diego’s defense completely shut down the high-powered Broncos offense, and the running game helped the Chargers dominate the time of possession.
With the win, San Diego kept its slim playoff hopes alive, but they no longer control their own destiny. One Dolphins win knocks the Bolts out of postseason contention.
17. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
It’s time to put up or shut up for the defending champion Baltimore Ravens. Head coach John Harbaugh has his team on a three-game winning streak, but the Ravens couldn’t take care of business earlier in the year so they now face a treacherous schedule to end the season.
The combined record of their upcoming opponents is 28-14, and two of those games are on the road—where Baltimore is 1-5.
The task is clear: Win, and you make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Ravens, that task is not so easy.
18. Dallas Cowboys (7-7)
It’s actually somewhat impressive that the Dallas Cowboys keep managing to blow games in such a spectacular fashion.
The Cowboys have two divisional games left on the schedule, ending the year with a crucial showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles.
This division race isn’t going to come down to which team plays the best football. It will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have nothing to play for, but they helped out their nemesis—the Baltimore Ravens—by destroying the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15.
Pittsburgh came out of the gates firing, as Ben Roethlisberger completed his first 11 passes of the game and led the Steelers to a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter.
By that point, the Bengals couldn’t regain their composure and the game was already decided.
20. St. Louis Rams (6-8)
Without their starting quarterback, the St. Louis Rams defense carried the team to an upset win over the New Orleans Saints.
The Rams aren’t in the playoff hunt, but they played the role of a spoiler beautifully by making Drew Brees uncomfortable from the get-go. The game wasn’t as close as the final score (27-16) suggests.
This team has plenty of pieces to do some damage next year, and more will be on the way with two first-round picks in the 2014 NFL draft. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about whether Sam Bradford is the weak link.
21. New York Jets (6-8)
The New York Jets played the Carolina Panthers fairly close, hanging in there until the fourth quarter. It is highly unlikely that Rex Ryan’s club makes the playoffs, but this year has to be viewed as a success considering the extremely low expectations entering the 2013 season.
Geno Smith hasn’t proved himself as the quarterback of the future, so more quarterback drama looms in the offseason.
22. Tennessee Titans (5-9)
The Tennessee Titans lost a dramatic overtime game to the Arizona Cardinals, but it was a great performance by the Titans.
Ryan Fitzpatrick led an offense that put up 460 yards of offense against a solid Cardinals defense, but it wasn’t enough to overcome three turnovers.
23. Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1)
Matt Cassel has been very good for the Minnesota Vikings over the last few weeks, and the Vikings pounded the Eagles in Week 15.
It was a truly impressive performance with Adrian Peterson sidelined due to injury, and Minnesota is playing surprisingly good football over the last three games. Regardless, it won't save head coach Leslie Frazier's job.
As for #Vikings coach Leslie Frazier… we’re told his prospects for returning for 2014 are grim. His seat in white hot.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 15, 2013
24. Atlanta Falcons (4-10)
The Atlanta Falcons offense looks much better now that Roddy White is actually healthy, but that’s not saying much. Matt Ryan and Co. still only managed to gain 243 yards against a porous Washington Redskins defense and barely escaped with the victory.
Atlanta’s offense will be better next year with Julio Jones back, but that defense needs to be overhauled.
25. Cleveland Browns (4-10)
The Cleveland Browns lost to the Chicago Bears, but losing is in their best interests at this point. The defense is elite, while the offense is a quarterback away from being legitimately dangerous.
Cleveland could make some noise in the AFC North as soon as next year.
26. Buffalo Bills (5-9)
The Buffalo Bills eked out a win over a Jacksonville Jaguars squad missing Maurice Jones-Drew and Cecil Shorts III, so forgive the unflattering ranking.
Injuries have really hurt this team, and the wheels have come off after a fairly promising start to the season.
Regardless, EJ Manuel looks like the real deal, and there is plenty of playmaking ability on both sides of the football.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were easily handled by the 49ers, but that’s hardly an embarrassing loss. Head coach Greg Schiano has probably saved his job with the impressive play of Mike Glennon (who could be the best quarterback of his draft class) and gutsy wins without Doug Martin and Mike Williams.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)
Head coach Gus Bradley has his Jacksonville Jaguars playing tough football down the stretch, and the Jaguars have won four of their last six games.
Jacksonville hung with Buffalo despite missing their two best offensive players, and a loss helps their draft positioning.
29. Oakland Raiders (4-10)
The Oakland Raiders made their game against the Chiefs fairly interesting, bringing it to within four points midway through the third quarter.
Then the defense collapsed and gave up three touchdowns to let the game slip out of reach. That’s not exactly a new trend, however. Oakland’s defense has given up an average of 41 points in their last three games.
What’s more puzzling is what the Raiders are doing with their two young quarterbacks. Both signal-callers have seen the field in the last two weeks, and hedging your bets is rarely a good idea in the NFL.
30. New York Giants (5-9)
The New York Giants may have a better record than some of the teams listed ahead of them, but Week 15 marked the second time this season that the Giants have failed to score a point in a game.
Eli Manning threw five interceptions in Week 15. That says pretty much all you need to know about New York’s season.
31. Washington Redskins (3-11)
The Kirk Cousins audition went almost as well as Washington could have hoped. He played well enough to show flashes of his potential, but not well enough to create a fan-driven quarterback controversy.
Washington almost pulled out the victory, but results are fairly meaningless at this point.
32. Houston Texans (2-12)
Make that 12 straight losses for the Houston Texans. Head coach Gary Kubiak lost his job, but he isn’t the only problem when your team has lost 12 straight games.
Case Keenum has been interesting, but at some point you have to question why he hasn’t been able to get a win. There is plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, so is Keenum the quarterback of the future?